Loyalty Day draws vets and community support for patriotism
BY TINA L. SCOTT
The annual Loyalty Day celebration held in Merrill on Saturday, April 29, 2023, drew veterans, their families, and members of the community who came to show and share their patriotism. Though unseasonably cold for the end of April, dozens of community members young and old came out to watch the Loyalty Day Parade pass by, salute the many American flags included in the parade, and do tribute to the veterans who work to secure the freedoms Americans enjoy.
National Loyalty Day celebrates more than the loyalty Americans have for the United States, also looking at the historic events that led to the formation of the country. According to the Loyalty Day 2023 booklets distributed during the parade, the first National Loyalty Day held in 1921 was “during the First Red Scare–a time when America was struggling with far-left extremism. It is during this period of uncertainty that the day came into being and was initially celebrated as Americanization Day.”
“The motive of the celebration was also to counter May Day that was commemorated by workers all over the world,” the Loyalty Day history page in the booklet said.
In 1955 the U.S. Congress officially recognized National Loyalty Day in response to “a great threat in the form of the rise of communism” and in 1958 President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared the day a legal holiday “to be celebrated with great fervor” in recognition of the nation’s history and the great value of the gift of freedom.
Since then, every President is required to announce the celebration of the day, ask for the U.S. flag to be raised on all important government buildings, and to order the organization of ceremonies like parades, fireworks, events in school, etc.
Not all states hold parades and special events for Loyalty Day anymore, but Wisconsin proudly does. With Merrill’s own Michele Rathke holding the position of 2022-2023 Wisconsin VFW State Commander, the City of Merrill and the Schmitt-Manecke-Donner VFW Post 1638 and Auxiliary were a natural choice to host this year’s Loyalty Day Parade and events.
While the Loyalty Day Parade was one highlight of the celebration, there were many other activities throughout the entire day and evening to commemorate the day.
A buffet breakfast at the Merrill Eagles Club started things off early at 7:00 a.m., lunch was available at the Merrill Expo Center, and the Merrill City Band performed a selection of patriotic tunes for all to enjoy at the Expo Center at noon.
At 1:00 p.m., a program began that included opening ceremonies by the State VFW Honor Guard, an invocation by Chaplain Scott Gustafson, and master of ceremonies Clyde Nelson from the Merrill Chamber of Commerce, introducing special and distinguished guests as well as guest speakers.
State Representative Calvin Callahan presented the State of Wisconsin’s Loyalty Day Proclamation and Merrill Mayor Steve Hass presented the City of Merrill’s Loyalty Day Proclamation, both recognizing May 1, 2023, as Loyalty Day.
State VFW Commander Michele Rathke, State Auxiliary President Faith Elford, VFW Past Commander-in-Chief Hal Roesch II, and Loyalty Day Chairperson Bill Bialecki all spoke. Brigadier General Scott D. Legwold gave the keynote speech, as well as acting as the Loyalty Day Parade Grand Marshal.
Awards presentations and closing ceremonies were followed by a break in activities.
At 5:00 p.m. a dinner and Testimonial Roast and Celebration began at the Northwoods Veterans Post in honor of Rathke and Elford, followed by a free barn dance there, open to the public, with music provided by Carl Jackson.